Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Karen Blackwell, founder and CEO of Kanda Chocolates, located in Los Angeles, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Kanda Chocolates is fair-trade chocolate that is grown, processed, and packaged entirely in Ghana with 100% Ghana Cocoa Beans. We chose Ghana because they are known for having creamier, chocolatey, and more cocoa-forward cocoa beans – without the typical bitter taste that dark chocolate is known for. We call it the Ghana bean difference.
Through my research, I was struck by the lack of single-origin Ghanaian chocolate available within stores. While Ghana is the 2nd largest producer of Cocoa in the world, less than 2% of their exports are finished chocolates. With the country's president working to change this, I wanted to join in on their efforts.
Kanda™ Chocolates was created to bring awareness to the superior quality of the chocolate that is made in Ghana. Kanda Chocolates delivers on the company's mission by maintaining operations in Ghana, purchasing fair-trade cocoa, purchasing carbon offsets, and donating 10% of proceeds to charitable organizations. Our most recent partner has been the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood, CA.
Our customers love our Kanda Chocolates because we offer the nostalgic taste of chocolate that we know from our childhood without all the additives that mainstream chocolate brands have. Some of our customers are smitten by the creamy caramel taste of our Milk Chocolate (38% Ghana Cocoa), while other customers are stuck on the intense chocolatey taste in our extra dark chocolate (72% Ghana Cocoa). However, we created Kanda because we fell in love with the rich chocolatey taste of Ghana's dark chocolate (56% Ghana Cocoa). Our dark chocolate bar (56% Ghana Cocoa) has converted even those that had written off dark chocolate.
Tell us about yourself
Prior to creating Sage & Alms™, I was a business leader with 15+ years in the healthcare industry. In my last role, I was the Director of Strategic Solutions for the Americas Region within the Diabetes Group for Medtronic plc – a $28.8B global healthcare solutions company. I also held leadership roles in Marketing, Strategy, Sales, and Operations. With my multiple roles in corporate America, a B.S. in Biological Sciences, and a Master's in Business Administration, my background uniquely positioned me to understand both the science and the business side of a food-focused CPG company. My science background has guided me through FDA labeling, testing, audits, specifications, and manufacturing. I've also leveraged my MBA to lead me through business strategies, marketing, sales, and overall operations.
With servant leadership as my North Star, I created a benefit corporation to further illustrate my commitment to social and environmental justice. My purpose for this company is far greater than anything I could want for just myself. And it is this purpose, paired with all my experience, that truly makes me uniquely positioned to lead this company to impactful profitability.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Our greatest accomplishment to date has been the growth we've achieved through our partnerships. After pivoting through the pandemic, we partnered with sommeliers, fromagers, whiskey brands, and organizations to spread the word about our brand. We certified as a women-owned and minority-owned business and entered pitch competitions. We started writing guest blogs and speaking on podcasts.
Once we started to gain momentum, we began selling on Amazon to increase our e-commerce presence. Our partnership with Amazon was pivotal in securing us an interview with Kristen Bell, features for women's history month with Keke Palmer and Diane Von Furstenberg, features in Vanity Fair and USA Today, and panel discussions with Black Girl Magic 2021 and Amazon Accelerate 2021. We were then approached by Macy's and added to their e-commerce platform. Through the countless relationships associated with the activities mentioned above, the blessings just kept pouring in. If we hadn't continued to cultivate our relationships, we would not be where we are today. I am super grateful!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest thing that comes with being a business owner is isolation. With or without employees, you are the leading decision-maker and often times left to solve many things on your own. Unless your friends and/or family members run a business, it is often difficult for others to relate to the struggles that you may face. It's hard.
I've countered this by reaching out to other female entrepreneurs. These women have been a sounding board for my supply issues, early founder's imposter syndrome, mansplaining experiences, and overall life discussions. I've found that they have been essential to my being able to thrive as a leader. They are my circle, my board, and my sisters.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- When time and budget permit, formalize your business. Take the steps to formalize your business with certifications, licenses, and EIN Numbers. Reserve your social media pages. Do what's in your budget, make a list, and take care of what you can when you can.
- Invest In Yourself! Get on every free webinar, podcast, and training that you can. Not every session will be applicable to you but try listening to podcasts in the shower, webinars while you make lunch, and training when driving. I've done it all, and I always find that I gain something from each session. I can't attend them all, but I try and make it a monthly goal to participate in at least one.
- Ask for help early and often! If you need help, be specific and ask. The person you ask may not have the answer, but they may be able to connect you to someone in the future that can.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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